Effective Ways to Discipline a Toddler Without Yelling

Discipline a Toddler Without Yelling

Respectfully disciplining toddlers is critical for their healthy development. Harsh punishment and yelling can be emotionally damaging and weaken your connection with your child. According to American Academy of Pediatrics research, “harsh verbal abuse or corporal punishment increases the risk of mental health disorders and aggression.” The good news is there are alternative techniques you can use to correct your toddler’s behavior in a gentle, constructive way.

Understanding Your Toddler’s Behavior

Toddlers act out for many reasons as they learn to navigate the world. Dr. Laura Markham said, “No toddler wakes up thinking, “Today, I’ll test my parents’ patience!” Look for the motivation behind the behavior, see the situation from your child’s perspective, and respond with empathy, patience, and care.

Common causes for outbursts in toddlers include:

  • Hunger or fatigue: Toddlers need regular snacks, naps, and bedtimes to avoid mood swings and tantrums.
  • Developmental changes: Toddlers are experiencing rapid physical and cognitive growth and have strong emotions they haven’t learned to regulate yet.
  • Attention seeking: Toddlers crave one-on-one interaction with their parents and caregivers. They may act out to fill their need for attention or bonding.
  • Frustration: Toddlers cannot communicate their needs and desires, leading to agitation and upset.
  • Anxiety or insecurity: Transitions, separation anxiety, or new experiences can trigger fearful reactions in toddlers that come across as behavior problems.

Provide your toddler with extra patience, affection, and security during challenging periods of development. Staying calm and maintaining a nurturing environment will help reinforce their positive behavior.

Establishing Clear Rules

Set simple rules to guide your toddler’s behavior and communicate them consistently. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting with 2-3 rules, stated positively, and focusing on a new skill or area of behavior daily. Explain rules before the behavior occurs and have your toddler repeat them to ensure understanding. Be consistent but also flexible as needed. 

Some examples of effective rules for toddlers include:

  • We use gentle touches.
  • We put toys away when done playing.
  • We speak with kind voices.

Studies show that toddlers who experience consistent rules and consequences exhibit fewer behavior problems and better social skills than preschoolers and beyond.

Positive Reinforcement Techniques

Positive reinforcement helps shape behavior through rewards and praise. Reinforcing desired behaviors with praise, rewards, and incentives is one of the most effective ways to teach children proper conduct and social skills.

When your toddler follows the rules, provide the following:

  • Verbal praise: Clapping, saying, “Great job using your inside voice!” Give praise immediately following the behavior.
  • Physical affection: Give hugs, high fives and pats on the back. Toddlers crave affectionate interaction with parents and caregivers.
  • Privileges: Once they’ve mastered a skill, reward them with sticker charts, playtime, books, or other treats. Limit screen time and sweets which lose their impact as rewards.
  • Be specific in your praise: Say, “I appreciate you using gentle touches with the cat. That was very kind.” Rather than just “Good job!” Praise their efforts and actions, not personal traits.

Positive reinforcement helps build confidence and leads to higher rates of sustained good behavior and internal discipline over time. However, rewards should be phased out gradually as a behavior becomes a habit.

Effective Discipline Techniques Without Yelling

Harsher discipline techniques like yelling or spanking should be avoided. The CDC states, “Corporal punishment has been found to be associated with increases in aggression, mental health problems, impaired relationships, and potentially low self-esteem.” Use alternative strategies like time-outs, redirection, and natural consequences.

  • Time-outs: Give your toddler a brief 1-2 minute time-out from the situation to help them calm down. Explain why they needed a time-out, discuss expectations going forward, and have them apologize if needed. Time-outs should be used sparingly and only for unwanted behaviors, not emotional outbursts.
  • Redirection: Substitute an undesirable behavior for an acceptable one. For example, if your toddler throws a toy, offer them another one they can throw. Give them appropriate outlets to release energy and frustration.
  • Natural consequences: Help your toddler understand the natural effects of their actions in a caring, non-punitive way. If they choose not to wear a coat, they may get cold. However, you’re there to provide comfort. Explain your reasoning to help them learn in a supportive environment. These techniques teach self-discipline and the ability to self-soothe.

Stay calm and do not give in to their demands to avoid rewarding bad behavior. Calmly reiterate your expectations, allow them to express feelings, and redirect them to an enjoyable activity once they settle. Make sure any discipline is reasonable and not retaliatory. Seek parenting resources for more advice.

Encouraging Self-Control and Good Behavior

Model the behavior you want to see. Speak and act respectfully in front of your toddler. Give them choices to help them gain autonomy and independence in a controlled way. Praise their attempts at self-control and patience.

According to research by Bandura, social learning theory shows that “children largely learn how to behave and regulate themselves based on what they observe every day from their parents, teachers, caregivers, and role models.”

 You can encourage good behavior in your toddler through the following:

  • Interactive play: Play make-believe, board games, and outdoor play together. Set limits and help them learn skills like gracefully sharing, waiting for turns, and winning/losing.
  • Responsibilities: Have your toddler do small chores like putting toys away, feeding pets, or watering plants. Praise their efforts to build a sense of accomplishment and self-confidence.
  • Expressing emotions: Label emotions for your toddler and encourage them to discuss feelings. Help them find acceptable ways to express anger, frustration, and upset by using words, art, or play. Remain patient through tantrums and outbursts.
  • Moral storybooks: Read books with characters demonstrating positive behavior and moral values. Discuss lessons from the stories and how they can apply them to their own lives.
  • Explain reasoning: Discuss why certain behaviors are important for health, safety, relationships, and responsibilities. Help them understand the impact of their actions rather than just enforcing compliance.

With time and practice, disciplining your toddler will become easier. Stay patient and remember that every child learns and grows at their own pace. Focus on maintaining a supportive environment to help guide your toddler to their full potential.


What are some effective toddler discipline techniques?

Some effective discipline techniques for toddlers include:

  • Positive reinforcement like rewards, praise, and incentives for good behavior.
  • Redirection by substituting unacceptable behavior for an acceptable alternative. For example, giving them an appropriate toy to throw instead of a prohibited object.
  • Setting clear rules and reasonable limits is stated positively. Be consistent while also being flexible based on your toddler’s needs.
  • Time-outs (1-2 minutes) to help calm emotions and encourage self-soothing. Discuss expectations before ending the time-out.
  • Natural consequences help them understand the logical results of their actions in a caring way. Provide comfort and support.

How can I discipline my toddler without yelling?

To discipline without yelling:

  • Stay calm and do not yell or raise your voice. Respond to your toddler in a composed, respectful manner.
  • Get at your toddler’s eye level, make eye contact, and speak gently but firmly.
  • Explain your reasoning for the discipline and have your toddler repeat the expectation or rule to check for understanding.
  • Use appropriate physical affection like hugs to maintain an emotional connection while disciplining the behavior.
  • Redirect your toddler to an acceptable activity or toy after disciplining them. Provide encouragement and praise for their cooperation.
  • Be flexible based on the situation and your toddler’s needs. Some behaviors may require more leniency and patience based on developmental stage or other factors.
  • Seek help from parenting resources or a pediatrician if you have trouble implementing discipline without anger or harsh reactions. Raising a toddler requires support.
  • Model the kind of communication you want to see. Apologize when you make a mistake to show them how to resolve conflicts healthily.
  • Use discipline as an opportunity to teach proper behavior and set future expectations. Remain consistent while also encouraging their growth and autonomy.


How can I manage my toddler’s tantrums without yelling?

To manage tantrums without yelling:

  • Stay calm, and do not yell. Respond in a composed, patient manner. Reacting angrily often makes tantrums worse.
  • Ignore the tantrum if possible and avoid giving in to their demands. Do not reward the behavior.
  • Speak in a gentle, empathetic tone. Say something like, “I know you’re upset. I’m here for you.” Provide physical comfort, like hugs, to help them calm down.
  • Redirection distraction or removal from the situation until they relax. Sometimes a change of scenery or activity can help end a tantrum.
  • Set limits to keep them safe but allow them to express emotion freely. Say, “You may be angry, but I won’t let you hit.”
  • Once they’ve calmed down, discuss the issue and set future expectations. Praise their efforts to help them develop better regulation and coping skills over time.
  • Look for triggers that set off tantrums and adjust to avoid or minimize their impact when possible. Toddlers often tantrum due to frustration, fatigue, hunger, or seeking attention.
  • Be patient through tantrums and understand that it is normal developmentally. Provide comfort and teach them proper ways of expressing their feelings and getting their needs met as their language and skills improve.
  • Seek professional help from a pediatrician or child psychologist if frequent or excessive tantrums are causing issues. They can evaluate if there are any underlying causes or behavioral concerns to be addressed.

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